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SportsShooter.com: Member Message Board

How to photograph a cheetah Running at full speed
Josh Peckler, Photographer
Chicago | IL | | Posted: 11:29 AM on 10.26.12
->> Great behind the scenes look how National Geographic photographed a cheetah at full speed.

http://tinyurl.com/8mywrk7
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Richard Uhlhorn, Photographer
Chelan Falls | WA | USA | Posted: 12:09 PM on 10.26.12
->> That's quite a production.
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Wally Nell, Photographer
SAN DIEGO | CA | USA | Posted: 12:09 PM on 10.26.12
->> As much as it is a great story on how it is done, and as much as it yields great pictures; it still brings to the forefront the issue of ethics. In photojournalism we have issues with setting things up, or presenting a finished product as real when in fact it is fake or staged; and in nature photography we have similar issues with faked images, i.e. not done in nature, faked, set up, etc. Its a pity that a great company like National Geographic is not doing this in nature, ... not set up but in real life.... This needs to be a nature story, not a story about how great the camera was and how fast they shot, and how long the dolly track was; ... and how satisfied the cheetah was when he/she caught the fake piece of fur... Sigh!
My 10 piastres...
Give me a good nature story, not set up, any day over this...
Thanks for posting.
Ok, off my soapbox now...
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Chuck Liddy, Photographer, Photo Editor
PLANET | EARTH | | Posted: 2:17 PM on 10.26.12
->> What Mr. Nell said +100
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Eric Isaacs, Photographer, Assistant
Santa Barbara | CA | USA | Posted: 2:25 PM on 10.26.12
->> It must have been terrifying to come face to face with such ferocious beasts!
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Corey Perrine, Photographer
Naples | FL | USA | Posted: 2:30 PM on 10.26.12
->> Agreed. On that note...

Here's solid story telling in nature photography:
http://www.joelsartore.com/story-behind/
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Dave Prelosky, Photographer
Lower Burrell | Pa | US | Posted: 2:34 PM on 10.26.12
->> Having not seen the spread in the magazine, my opinion will depend on how the photo(s) are defined.
If they lay it out as a "Here's what it took for us to document a cheetah in full speed pursuit." I haven't got a problem. If they go for a "Look at this remarkable animal and what it looks like when it runs," I've got a problem... While NatGeo documents the world around us, I don't view them as a documentary PJ outlet. If they create situations and document them, I'll go with "I'm OK with that as long as there is acknowledgment of the situation."
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Aaron Jaffe, Photographer, Student/Intern
San Diego | CA | USA | Posted: 2:41 PM on 10.26.12
->> Why would there be an issue with saying "what it looks like when it runs" as long as it is framed in the context of being in a controlled environment strictly for the purpose of showing that?

If they presented the cheetah as being in a natural habitat or such then sure, I could see the ethical issues.
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Willis Glassgow, Photo Editor, Photographer
Florence | SC | USA | Posted: 2:48 PM on 10.26.12
->> I remember not long ago, when there was a story on SS about Sports Illustrated shooting the NCAA Final Four and the production it took, and what was entailed in that production. Looking back and even at that time, I think it was & still is massive overkill. Another story, is when an SI shooter I know shot the same football game as I did back about 7-8 yrs ago. There were 2 SI photos, 2 Assts, plane fare for four, hotels for four, 2 car rentals and of course all other incidentals, like eating, gas, expenses etc. The next week, SI used ONE smallish photo of the game in its mag. Since I had the subscription, I made a note of checking every week to see if they used another image. They did not. They spent approx. $10,000 for a single image!!!!!!!!........ I look at this NG production in the same way. Was this production profitable?.......I'm guessing that would be a big fat ass, "NO". A couple of years later, SI lays off almost their whole photo staff. Now, is that good business????......Doesn't sound like it to me.

Now, I know this sounds highly critical of me to say such a thing about both SI and NG. But, to me it's just showing off and really does nothing to improve the photo world and everyone it it, because 99% of us could never duplicate what they did, because not only of cost but also of experience. So, if someone else could tell me a REALLY good reason to do this, please let me know, cause I am at a loss.

In saying all this, I am NOT criticizing NG or SI photos, nor am I criticizing the editorial staff, but I am criticizing the folks who helped waste tons of money doing stuff like this when it was totally unnecessary and wasteful.
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Keith Crowley, Photographer
Story | WY | United States | Posted: 6:41 PM on 10.26.12
->> Damn, "This video has been removed by the user."
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Erik Markov, Photographer
Kokomo | IN | | Posted: 7:05 PM on 10.26.12
->> Maybe people would find this more interesting

http://www.grindtv.com/outdoor/blog/38141/photographer+becomes+focus+of+lar.../

granted, there was chum in the water, for purposes of studying the sharks and tagging them. Still a freaky photo. I want the first one as a 10X20 ft image for my wall.
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Jim Colburn, Photographer
Omaha | NE | USA | Posted: 7:22 PM on 10.26.12
->> Vis

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UrRUDS1xbNs
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Randy Sartin, Photographer, Assistant
Knoxville | TN | USA | Posted: 8:37 PM on 10.26.12
->> Look at Willis, making sense and all that :)
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Keith Allison, Photographer, Assistant
Owings Mills | MD | USA | Posted: 9:31 AM on 10.27.12
->> Original National Geographic Link

http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2012/11/cheetahs/behind-the-scenes-video
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Frank Mattia, Photographer, Assistant
Chattanooga | TN | USA | Posted: 12:48 PM on 10.27.12
->> Don't hold back Willis, tell it like it is.
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Bradly J. Boner, Photographer, Photo Editor
Jackson | WY | USA | Posted: 3:40 PM on 10.27.12
->> @Willis -

1. Since National Geographic is a nonprofit (unlike SI), they typically don't approach projects with profit in mind.

2. You might find this project as "totally unnecessary and wasteful" because it does not "improve the photo world," and I would agree if National Geographic's mission included striving to "improve the photo world." However, I couldn't find this anywhere in their mission statement, which reads, in part:

"The mission of the National Geographic Society is to inspire people to care about the planet. Throughout its 124-year history, it has encouraged conservation of natural resources and raised public awareness of the importance of natural places, the plants and wildlife that inhabit them, and the environmental problems that threaten them. The Society also encourages stewardship of the planet through research and exploration, and through education."

http://press.nationalgeographic.com/about-national-geographic/

I'm sure NG could give a flying fart in the wind that "99% of us could never duplicate what they did." If this project contributes to furthering their mission (it is my personal opinion that it does), then they probably find it a worthwhile investment of time, money and resources.

Finally, I simultaneously agree with everything Wally and Dave P. said. Ethics are very important, however we should refrain from judging them until we see how the project is presented in its final form. I'm confident NG will do both the cheetah and photojournalism ethics proper justice.
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Timothy Andrews, Photographer
Pearl Harbor | Hi | USA | Posted: 6:45 PM on 10.27.12
->> I'm curious as to how this could possibly be a violation of ethics. It's a real cheetah, actually running at full speed. They didn't say "in the wild" or hunting its prey, just running. And I have to say, I'm looking forward to seeing the photos and full video because its truly impressive to see such an amazing animal do what it's so well know for.
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Israel Shirk, Photographer, Assistant
Boise | ID | US | Posted: 9:42 PM on 10.27.12
->> Why put so much into it?

Because anyone can do a decent job, because only NG and SI are always required to be at the top of their games because of their history, because being second-best gets second-best pay, because if they don't come up with something new and amazing they'll be just like the competition, ...
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Wally Nell, Photographer
SAN DIEGO | CA | USA | Posted: 1:35 AM on 10.28.12
->> Israel, I totally care to differ. There are very few who can do a good job at telling a good nature story, .... very few can do a decent job. It takes much more than having the right lens and camera. It takes lots of research, lots of planning, lots of patience, lots of time, the will to succeed, the vision, to make a good nature shot. What Nat Geo did there was a lazy way of doing things as far as I am concerned. I am not a nature photographer, and don't want to be one neither. However I come from a country with many incredible nature photographers. Most of them are not pros, but they know what it takes to get good nature stories. I know some people who take 6 to 8 weeks off per year to go find one nature story. OK, so they get good vacation in that part of the world! But the point is that if they want an image of a cheetah running, they go find a cheetah and photograph it. If you have ever been to an African game park, or even more difficult, finding a cheetah in the wild outside a game park; you will know this is not easy to do. None of this tame-cheetah-chasing-a-piece-of-fluff crap. Go research names of non-pros like Barrie Wilkens, Colin Mead, Jill Sneesby, and those are only a few. Go look at a magazine called GETAWAY from South Africa.... Have a look at images sent in to it...
You don't need to set up a nature story to get pictures of a nature story, you just have to work hard. And few know how to do that in nature photography...
In defense of Nat Geo, I have to say that their photographers normally produce amazing nature stories. This cheetah thing is the exception rather than the rule.
With regards to ethics, and again, I am not a nature photographer, I just come from a background of photographers where nature is revered; in the same way there are ethics in photojournalism, they have ethics in nature photography.
And, ... if NG or SI have to have a production like that to be 'at the top of their game', then they are not at the top of their game...
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Wally Nell, Photographer
SAN DIEGO | CA | USA | Posted: 1:49 AM on 10.28.12
->> Maybe I should clarify, I am not saying SI and NG are not the top of the crop, I am just saying that having a big production like that proves nothing. It does not prove they are at the top of their game. All it proves is that they know how to set something up (referring to the cheetah story now). For the record, SI is at the top of their game regardless of their 'production'. The way they cover a live game is inspiring, and I don't think it compares to the cheetah story... Its like apples and oranges, uhm, house cats and cheetahs...
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Josh Merwin, Photographer
New York | NY | | Posted: 5:55 AM on 10.28.12
->> I was on safari in south africa last week and was prepared to say if you want a picture of a cheetah running, go on safari or into the wild. But you should all watch the behind the scenes video from Keith's link. This isn't a story of cheetahs living in the wild. It's basically like a portrait shoot of a cheetah running. There is no way to track the cheetah the way they wanted in nature. It is similar to espn's sports science episodes. It looks like they are going to break down how a cheetah's body/muscles move to achieve its amazing speed.
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Max Waugh, Photographer
Bothell | WA | USA | Posted: 12:52 PM on 10.28.12
->> Thank you, Josh. That's exactly how I look at this. Nat Geo brings a scientific and research aspect to a lot of their work, and the point of this was to present a view of how the animal moves.

As someone who is primarily a nature photographer (maybe that makes my opinion less-respected around here ;), I don't find anything wrong with this. Should I be telling Dustin Snipes that his incredible portraits of athletes in action should only be taken at actual events, and not staged? Will we start ripping Joel Sartore for his amazing work documenting endangered species around the globe to help raise awareness for their plight (
http://www.joelsartore.com/galleries/the-photo-ark/) just because he enlisted the help of zoos to do it?

I've seen the issue with these photos, and they declare openly that it's a captive animal, and why they photographed it (to study the movement of the animal). Disclosure of "captive vs. wild" is usually a concern in nature photography--see the BBC contest winner disqualified a couple years ago--and they didn't fail us in that regard.

If you'd like to get on NG's case about wildlife ethics, I'm sure there are bigger issues that raise the ire of certainly environmentally-conscious folks. In one example, they've "baited" spotted owls, enticing them to attack the photographer so he could get wide angle flight shots, etc. That's much more controversial than what they did with the cheetah.
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Bradly J. Boner, Photographer, Photo Editor
Jackson | WY | USA | Posted: 3:24 PM on 10.28.12
->> +2 Josh. I think some are missing the point of what NG is trying to accomplish here. This is clearly not a "nature story" on cheetahs in the wild.
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Bradly J. Boner, Photographer, Photo Editor
Jackson | WY | USA | Posted: 3:31 PM on 10.28.12
->> Again, Willis, NG is not out to "prove they are at the top of their game." Their goal is to inspire and educate, not to swing their wangs around and prove they are photography gods.
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Willis Glassgow, Photo Editor, Photographer
Florence | SC | USA | Posted: 9:02 AM on 10.29.12
->> Brad.....My point was that SI and NG both do some projects that are unnecessary. If NG is a non-profit organization, even more reason why they should not be "showing off" with a massive production of something that is probably and totally unnecessary.

I equate this to setting up backboard remotes for a kindergarten basketball game, cause it's cool and I want to show off my stuff to a bunch of parents.

What point does it prove?.....Will these images be so much better than if they shot this in the wild?.....I would love to know how much was spent in this production, $10,000?.....$100,000?.......$1 Million?......All I can tell you is, if I were a NG board member, I'd be asking some pretty tough questions to some folks of the editorial staff.
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Mark Peters, Photographer
Highland | IL | USA | Posted: 10:35 AM on 10.29.12
->> Is any entertainment actually necessary?
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Bradly J. Boner, Photographer, Photo Editor
Jackson | WY | USA | Posted: 11:11 AM on 10.29.12
->> They are not "showing off," Willis. You need to start seeing things outside the prism of the photography world.

Could they do this in the wild? I seriously doubt it. I suppose they could set up their tracking rig, camouflage it, then wait for a cheetah to chase a gazelle perpendicular to it at just the right distance, but they would probably be waiting decades.

What is the point? Well, perhaps you should subscribe and you'll find out in NG's November digital edition, where this project is scheduled to appear. Then you would be in a better position to judge whether or not it's "totally unnecessary." I can't say for sure because I haven't seen it myself, but my guess is that they would like to study the physics/dynamics that allow a cheetah to be able to run so fast by creating a super slow-motion video, and I would also guess that if we watched the video that they might tell us why that might be important. National Geographic typically doesn't do things just for the sake of doing them.

Finally, since many of these kinds of projects are grant funded, I'm sure the NG board is well aware of the cost.
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Michael Granse, Photographer
Urbana | IL | USA | Posted: 12:13 PM on 10.29.12
->> Were there any dogs in the "how they did this" video? The dog and cheetah connection in captive cheetahs is as interesting as the cheetahs themselves.

Cheetahs in captivity are often paired with a canine companion, sometimes even during sleeping hours. The reason for this is that a cheetah is unable to understand human body language, but dogs do this very well and cheetahs can understand the body language of dogs. As such, the dog serves as an interpreter for the cheetah, as the big cat is able to understand a human's behavioral intentions by observing the dog's reaction to the human behavior. The dog has to be confident enough to handle life with a really big cat, but not so confident as to be aggressive as cheetahs are very non confrontational with other predators as any injury that affects speed is essentially fatal to an animal that relies on speed in order to eat. If the cheetah is afraid of the dog, then the cheetah will be more interested in avoiding the dog than looking to the dog for information regarding humans.

In the process of photographing a captive cheetah running at full speed, photos and information about the dog companion would make for a great story, but with that said the cheetah that was used in the National Geographic photos may have already eaten three dog companions and may no longer be a candidate for such interaction.
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Bradly J. Boner, Photographer, Photo Editor
Jackson | WY | USA | Posted: 9:39 PM on 11.04.12
->> FWIW to all the ethics hawks, here's the caption that accompanied the really cool 4-panel fold out of 34 photos from this video that went with this story in the November 2012 National Geographic:

"A 7.19 second dash

That's all it took Tommy T to cover 100 meters in a timed run at the Cincinnati Zoo. (A half second of the run is shown here.) Sarah, the fastest cheetah ever clocked, finished in 5.95 seconds. By comparison, Olympian Usain Bolt's record is 9.58."
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Gavin Werbeloff, Photographer
New York | NY | USA | Posted: 10:19 PM on 11.04.12
->> If you want to see some great cheetah cinematography, in the wild, look up Warren Samuels and Simon King. Simon's Phantom work for Disney in their African Cats movie is particularly spectacular.
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Paul Hayes, Photographer, Photo Editor
Littleton | NH | USA | Posted: 8:11 AM on 11.05.12
->> I don't see an ethics issue. At all. But I would like to side with Willis on one point. We as photographers need our employers -- current and future -- to be budget smart to ensure we have (and will continue to have) jobs in the industry.

If they are careless with their money, and end up cutting some or all of their full-time positions, and switch to using part-timers, freelancers, wire services, reporters-with-cameras or "civilians with cameras willing to give it away for free", then we are all worse off.

And as we all know, papers and magazines big and small are laying off photographers left and right. Small market papers with staff photogs are becoming (or have already become) a thing of the past, mid- and large-market papers are cutting back, etc. etc.

Willis, this is what you were saying, right?
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Willis Glassgow, Photo Editor, Photographer
Florence | SC | USA | Posted: 2:40 PM on 11.05.12
->> Paul....that was EXACTLY the point I was trying to make. To me, it is just wasteful and not smart business.
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Joel Hawksley, Photographer
Carbondale | IL | USA | Posted: 3:50 PM on 11.24.12
->> Some of the footage has been posted on Vimeo. Have a look:

http://vimeo.com/53914149
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Bradly J. Boner, Photographer, Photo Editor
Jackson | WY | USA | Posted: 4:24 PM on 11.24.12
->> Willis - National Geographic is not a business.
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Steve Boyle, Photographer
Philadelphia | PA | USA | Posted: 5:08 PM on 11.24.12
->> If having two SI photographers at one game is overkill, then what do you think of ESPN's One Day, One Game coverage?

http://frontrow.espn.go.com/2012/11/from-baton-rouge-to-bristol-inside-the-.../
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Paul Hayes, Photographer, Photo Editor
Littleton | NH | USA | Posted: 5:31 PM on 11.24.12
->> @Bradley, I don't disagree, but even non-profits need to remain solvent to maintain existing staffing levels and continue operations.
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Mark Peters, Photographer
Highland | IL | USA | Posted: 6:50 PM on 11.24.12
->> Joel - thanks for the link - that was amazing. It also was made quite clear how it was captured.

I can't imagine that the cost of production for this could be much more (if not in fact less), than sending a production crew into the wild for some of the stories that they do.
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Bradly J. Boner, Photographer, Photo Editor
Jackson | WY | USA | Posted: 2:01 PM on 11.25.12
->> Paul I totally agree that non-profits need to remain solvent (kind of a no-brainer, isn't it?). But Willis is looking at this project through the prism of "How does this project make money for National Geographic?" rather than "How does this project further National Geographic's mission?" National Geographic clearly thought this project fit their mission and therefore thought it was a justifiable investment of time, money and resources.
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Jeff Gammons, Student/Intern, Photographer
Destin | Fl | USA | Posted: 1:58 PM on 11.26.12
->> Here is the directors cut, some awesome stuff

http://vimeo.com/53914149
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Willis Glassgow, Photo Editor, Photographer
Florence | SC | USA | Posted: 7:43 PM on 11.26.12
->> Bradley....every business is a business, including non-profits. Especially non-profits actually. As Paul mentioned, every entity has to remain solvent, no matter what their circumstances. Every entity has to weigh the outcome of every project, and ask themselves, "Is this NECESSARY?" and if it not necessary, then is wasteful. Period. If you are wasteful as a company, you are and will be jeopardizing other peoples livelihood, because if they are wasteful enough, then people tend to lose their jobs. Most likely the folks that will lose jobs are the ones that need them the most.

BUT, I do agree with you in the fact that Nat Geo has kind of a special mission and that they are many times attempting to benefit society with the research that they do. I do NOT think that this project was necessary at the level they were going at. This whole production was basically "showing off" to show everyone that it COULD be done, not if it was benefitting anyone.
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Bradly J. Boner, Photographer, Photo Editor
Jackson | WY | USA | Posted: 2:01 PM on 11.27.12
->> Willis - While I certainly you have a valid opinion, I still think you're looking at it through the wrong prism.

Those who hold the purse strings at NG typically haven't been known approve projects just to swing their dicks around and "show everyone that it could be done." They approve them on the basis of whether or not they believe it furthers the story they are trying to tell.

There are a number of things that any number of magazines, newspapers, ect., do that could be deemed "unnecessary" by any one of us. But good editors don't (and shouldn't) approach projects strictly on the basis of whether or not they're "necessary," rather they ask themselves if they believe the cost of the story/project will be outweighed by the benefit to the reader/viewer.

I personally think the outcome of this project, both in print and online, was friggin' cool. Whether it was "necessary" doesn't really play into it. I learned something about cheetahs, and I think a lot of other people did too. And since teaching was the point of the project, I think it was a success.
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Bradly J. Boner, Photographer, Photo Editor
Jackson | WY | USA | Posted: 2:19 PM on 11.27.12
->> Judging by the comments on the "Director's Cut" posted by Joel and Jeff (which I only just now watched), I'd say the response was pretty good. I didn't find anyone saying, "Wow, what a waste of money." And since the description of the video also provides a link to more information about cheetah conservation (http://www.causeanuproar.com), I'd say there's a good chance this video may inspire people to donate.

http://vimeo.com/53914149
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Patrick Fallon, Photographer, Assistant
Torrance | California | USA | Posted: 3:14 PM on 11.27.12
->> Can't help but think that some people here are failing to realize that NG also has a large television presence, which I'm sure this footage would be turned into a production/part of that - thus making the costs much more reasonable considering the normal expenditures required for a show.

Pretty cool video, too.
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Mark Peters, Photographer
Highland | IL | USA | Posted: 4:22 PM on 11.27.12
->> Just curious Willis -

How else would you do this?
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Wally Nell, Photographer
SAN DIEGO | CA | USA | Posted: 6:09 PM on 11.27.12
->> I guess National Geographic is about people as well. So not just nature but people groups. So, in retrospect, perhaps the 'human influence' in doing this is perhaps justified if it is not showing something as 'in nature'.
On Halloween this year, I photographed an assignment; a simulation of a US forces led response to a zombie apocalypse, with guns going off, explosions, and medics rushing in, and many many zombies... And National Geographic had a team there... Did a double take on that one... Whatthu... However, I guess they are about people groups as well, zombies are people too right?
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Thread Title: How to photograph a cheetah Running at full speed
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